When they express, for instance, the popular notion that our environmental problems began with the invention of agriculture, they push the human fall from natural grace so far back into the past that all of civilized history becomes a tale of ecological declension. We are all part of nature, and we could all do our part if only we stopped trying to preserve “Wilderness” and started to live it. William Cronon in the article, “The Trouble With Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature” introduces the connection between religion and wilderness, specifically the Bible. To this day, for instance, the Blackfeet continue to be accused of “poaching” on the lands of Glacier National Park that originally belonged to them and that were ceded by treaty only with the proviso that they be permitted to hunt there. And yet protecting the rain forest in the eyes of First World environmentalists all too often means protecting it from the people who live there. According to Cronon, “Wilderness” does us more harm than good. God was on the mountaintop, in the chasm, in the waterfall, in the thundercloud, in the rainbow, in the sunset. In the article, Cronon describes how nature is a creation of human beings. So what is the trouble with “Wilderness”? 39. Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, P. 27. The three may differ in the way they choose to express their piety—Wordsworth favoring an awe-filled bewilderment, Thoreau a stern loneliness, Muir a welcome ecstasy—but they agree completely about the church in which they prefer to worship. Most of our most serious environmental problems start right here, at home, and if we are to solve those problems, we need an environmental ethic that will tell us as much about using nature as about not using it. As Gary Snyder has wisely said, “A person with a clear heart and open mind can experience the wilderness anywhere on earth. of his ribs as he ascends. (11) In the theories of Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, William Gilpin, and others, sublime landscapes were those rare places on earth where one had more chance than elsewhere to glimpse the face of God. Dave Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior (New York: Harmony Books, 1991, p. 69 (italics in original). Most of us, I suspect, still follow the conventions of the romantic sublime in finding the mountaintop more glorious than the plains, the ancient forest nobler than the grasslands, the mighty canyon more inspiring than the humble marsh. Many of the word’s strongest associations then were biblical, for it is used over and over again in the King James Version to refer to places on the margins of civilization where it is all too easy to lose oneself in moral confusion and despair. The task of making a home in nature is what Wendell Berry has called “the forever unfinished lifework of our species.” “The only thing we have to preserve nature with” he writes, “is culture; the only thing we have to preserve wildness with is domesticity.” (42) Calling a place home inevitably means that we will use the nature we find in it, for there can be no escape from manipulating and working and even killing some parts of nature to make our home. 469: The Making of the American Landscape, 932: Topics in American Environmental History. Although at first blush an apparently more “scientific” concept than wilderness, biological diversity in fact invokes many of the same sacred values, which is why organizations like the Nature Conservancy have been so quick to employ it as an alternative to the seemingly fuzzier and more problematic concept of wilderness. In forcing us to acknowledge that they are not of our making, that they have little or no need of our continued existence, they recall for us a creation far greater than our own. This was no casual stroll in the mountains, no simple sojourn in the gentle lap of nonhuman nature. (23) Among the things that most marked the new national parks as reflecting a post-frontier consciousness was the relative absence of human violence within their boundaries. It is entirely a creation of the culture that holds it dear, a product of the very history it seeks to deny. That is why, when I think of the times I myself have come closest to experiencing what I might call the sacred in nature, I often find myself remembering wild places much closer to home. Niagara Falls was the first to undergo this transformation, but it was soon followed by the Catskills, the Adirondacks, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and others. Human Place in Nature, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, 69-90. This was why the early Christian saints and mystics had often emulated Christ’s desert retreat as they sought to experience for themselves the visions and spiritual testing He had endured. Only a small number of mountain bikers rode here, but the area and especially the Castle Divide Trail had earned life list status among trail riders. Go back 250 years in American and European history, and you do not find nearly so many people wandering around remote corners of the planet looking for what today we would call “the wilderness experience.” As late as the eighteenth century, the most common usage of the word “wilderness” in the English language referred to landscapes that generally carried adjectives far different from the ones they attract today. I meant to be provocative, to encourage people to think in unfamiliar ways about this idea called University of Wisconsin-Madison As more and more tourists sought out the wilderness as a spectacle to be looked at and enjoyed for its great beauty, the sublime in effect became domesticated. Seen as the original garden, it is a place outside of time, from which human beings had to be ejected before the fallen world of history could properly begin. Because of projects to sustain the ‘nature’ of the wilderness, environmentalists creates dams in rivers and try to prevent animal extinction. I celebrate with others who love wilderness the beauty and power of the things it contains. The symbols he detected in this wilderness landscape were more supernatural than natural, and they inspired more awe and dismay than joy or pleasure. Both trees stand apart from us; both share our common world. The middle ground is where we actually live. thee here, but forever relentlessly drive thee hence to where I am kind. He is more lone than you can imagine …. 33. The Trouble with Wilderness. These blessed mountains are so compactly filled with God’s Few would have questioned the merits of “reclaiming” a wasteland like this in order to put it to human use. Indeed, one of the most striking proofs of the cultural invention of wilderness is its thoroughgoing erasure of the history from which it sprang. Between the wilderness that created us and the civilization created by us grew an ever-widening rift. The romantic ideology of wilderness leaves precisely nowhere for human beings actually to … Were all like workings of one mind, the features 37. See James Proctor, “Whose Nature? Most of all, it is the ultimate landscape of authenticity. As we gaze into the mirror it holds up for us, we too easily imagine that what we behold is Nature when in fact we see the reflection of our own unexamined longings and desires. Thus the decades following the Civil War saw more and more of the nation’s wealthiest citizens seeking out wilderness for themselves. It is where we—all of us, in our different places and ways—make our homes. ... McCandless is quickly faced with reality, however. For them, wild land was not a site for productive labor and not a permanent home; rather, it was a place of recreation. Why seek me where I have not called thee, and then complain because you Trouble with the Wilderness Cont. Analogous arguments can be found in John Brinckerhoff Jackson, “Beyond Wilderness,” A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale Univ. But Stegner’s deeper message then becomes all the more compelling. I’ll admit I often get these wild ideas. Both trees in some ultimate sense are wild; both in a practical sense now depend on our management and care. It is just here that our cultural traditions of wilderness remain so important. It is the place for which we take responsibility, the place we try to sustain so we can pass on what is best in it (and in ourselves) to our children. Where were these sublime places? If we are the ones causing the deterioration of nature through our extravagant lifestyle and industry, than how can it possibly help to forget about that as we vacation into the “Wilderness” which is already protected? Whatever value it might have arose solely from the possibility that it might be “reclaimed” and turned toward human ends—planted as a garden, say, or a city upon a hill. Most of all, it means practicing remembrance and gratitude, for thanksgiving is the simplest and most basic of ways for us to recollect the nature, the culture, and the history that have come together to make the world as we know it. “The irony, of course, was that in the process wilderness came to reflect the very civilization its devotees sought to escape.” Said William Cronon about the transformation the wilderness was going through. The dam was eventually built, but what today seems no less significant is that so many people fought to prevent its completion. One by one, various corners of the American map came to be designated as sites whose wild beauty was so spectacular that a growing number of citizens had to visit and see them for themselves. Addeddate 2019-06-12 18:51:42 Identifier TheTroubleWithWilderness Scanner Internet Archive HTML5 Uploader 1.6.4. One of Turner’s most provocative claims was that by the 1890s the frontier was passing away. Mark 1:12-13, KJV; see also Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13, 6. He is of the opinion that people have excluded nature form their Western Culture. Compare its analysis of environmental knowledge through work with Jennifer Price’s analysis of environmental knowledge through consumption. To protect wilderness was in a very real sense to protect the nation’s most sacred myth of origin. He also says that protecting wilderness is a fundamental task of environmental movement. John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), reprinted in John Muir: The Eight Wilderness Discovery Books (London, England: Diadem; Seattle, Washington: Mountaineers, 1992), P. 211. Not only does it ascribe greater power to humanity that we in fact possess—physical and biological nature will surely survive in some form or another long after we ourselves have gone the way of all flesh—but in the end it offers us little more than a self-defeating counsel of despair. Our definition of nature. Press, 1959); Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence (Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkin.s Univ. Ever since the nineteenth century, celebrating wilderness has been an activity mainly for well-to-do city folks. If civilization was to be redeemed, it would be by men like the Virginian who could retain their frontier virtues even as they made the transition to post-frontier life. In its flight from history, in its siren song of escape, in its reproduction of the dangerous dualism that sets human beings outside of nature—in all of these ways, wilderness poses a serious threat to responsible environmentalism at the end of the twentieth century. Copyright © William Cronon 11. 280-81, lines 131-42. This is surely a question worth asking about everything we do, and not just about the natural world. We inhabit civilization while holding some part of ourselves—what we imagine to be the most precious part—aloof from its entanglements. We thereby leave ourselves little hope of discovering what an ethical, sustainable, honorable human place in nature might actually look like. (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale Univ. Remember this? champagne water is pure pleasure, so is breathing the living air, and every just so can we still join Thoreau in declaring that “in Wildness is the preservation of the World,” for wildness (as opposed to wilderness) can be found anywhere: in the seemingly tame fields and woodlots of Massachusetts, in the cracks of a Manhattan sidewalk, even in the cells of our own bodies. 171-85. For a sampling of other writings by followers of deep ecology and/or Earth First!, see Michael Tobias, ed., Deep Ecology (San Diego, California: Avant Books, 1984); Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 1985); Michael Tobias, After Eden: History, Ecology, and Conscience (San Diego, California: Avant Books, 1985); Dave Foreman and Bill Haywood, eds., Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkey Wrenching, 2nd ed. A useful survey of the different factions of radical environmentalism can be found in Carolyn Merchant, Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World (New York: Routledge, 1992). No matter what the angle from which we regard it, wilderness offers us the illusion that we can escape the cares and troubles of the world in which our past has ensnared us. and pilfers him of some of his divine faculty. Remember the feelings of such moments, and you will know as well as I do that you were in the presence of something irreducibly nonhuman, something profoundly Other than yourself Wilderness is made of that too. No less important was the powerful romantic attraction of primitivism, dating back at least to of that the best antidote to the ills of an overly refined and civilized modern world was a return to simpler, more primitive living. © 2021 Green Beans, Big Dreams. Each of us who has spent time there can conjure images and sensations that seem all the more hauntingly real for having engraved themselves so indelibly on our memories. It is an island in the polluted sea of urban-industrial modernity, the one place we can turn for escape from our own too-muchness. We need to reduce, reuse, and recycle. making a passionate ecstatic pleasure glow not explainable. Humans have become accustomed to celebrating an ideal vision of nature rather than the nature that exists all around us in our everyday lives. Once set aside within the fixed and carefully policed boundaries of the modern bureaucratic state, the wilderness lost its savage image and became safe: a place more of reverie than of revulsion or fear. It means looking at the part of nature we intend to turn toward our own ends and asking whether we can use it again and again and again—sustainably—without its being diminished in the process. In the United States, this was embodied most strikingly in the national myth of the frontier. The torrents of mist shoot out from the base of a great waterfall in the depths of a Sierra canyon, the tiny droplets cooling your face as you listen to the roar of the water and gaze up toward the sky through a rainbow that hovers just out of reach. Country people generally know far too much about working the land to regard unworked land as their ideal. The irony, of course, was that in the process wilderness came to reflect the very civilization its devotees sought to escape. By now I hope it is clear that my criticism in this essay is not directed at wild nature per se, or even at efforts to set aside large tracts of wild land, but rather at the specific habits of thinking that flow from this complex cultural construction called wilderness. We can begin to see the irony here. Learning to honor the wild—learning to remember and acknowledge the autonomy of the other—means striving for critical self-consciousness in all of our actions. The Trouble With Wilderness. I think the answer to this question will come by broadening our sense of the otherness that wilderness seeks to define and protect. : The Contested Moral Terrain of Ancient Forests,” in Cronon, Uncommon Ground, pp. To return to my opening argument: there is nothing natural about the concept of wilderness. Seen as the frontier, it is a savage world at the dawn of civilization, whose transformation represents the very beginning of the national historical epic. Press, 1956). Katherine Hayles helped me see the importance of this argument. From such a starting place, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that the only way human beings can hope to live naturally on earth is to follow the hunter-gatherers back into a wilderness Eden and abandon virtually everything that civilization has given us. My own belief is that only by exploring this middle ground will we learn ways of imagining a better world for all of us: humans and nonhumans, rich people and poor, women and men, First Worlders and Third Worlders, white folks and people of color, consumers and producers—a world better for humanity in all of its diversity and for all the rest of nature too. Turner tended to stress communitarian themes when writing frontier history, asserting that Americans in primitive conditions had been forced to band together with their neighbors to form communities and democratic institutions. his bold, free spirit. Vast, Titanic, inhuman Nature has got him at disadvantage, caught him alone, In critiquing wilderness as I have done in this essay, I’m forced to confront my own deep ambivalence about its meaning for modern environmentalism. Now they were forced to move elsewhere, with the result that tourists could safely enjoy the illusion that they were seeing their nation in its pristine, original state, in the new morning of God’s own creation. In The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature, William Cronon really makes us rethink about the Wilderness. If Satan was there, then so was Christ, who had found angels as well as wild beasts during His sojourn in the desert. 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